Elderlaw for August 1, 2020
Dear Len & Rosie,
I have a half-sister in poor health. She wants me to get everything that is left in her estate when she dies. Her husband died and left everything to her and they had no children. In addition to me, she has two half-sisters; one who is very elderly and ill and another who is quite well off. She has listed my name only on her will, and my name is on all of her bank accounts as a joint tenant. She inquired about giving me a power of attorney, but her lawyer said that is was not necessary. Is this going to work?
Under trusts and estates law, half-siblings are treated exactly like full siblings. Thereís no difference. Everything that your half-sister holds in joint tenancy with you shall become yours if she dies before you do. All you need to retitle the accounts is to provide a Certificate of Death. However, itís best to keep her name on one joint account for a few months so you can deposit any refund checks that come in after her death.
If she has any life insurance policies or retirement accounts, she should verify that she has named you as her pay-on-death beneficiary. This way youíll be able to claim these accounts upon her death. As a non-spouse beneficiary youíll have up to 10 years to cash in any retirement accounts paying to you, paying income tax as you cash them in. Any life insurance policies paying to you will do so tax-free.
If your half-sister owns a home, she should see an attorney and create a trust or perhaps record a revocable transfer on death deed. We do not recommend joint tenancy deeds to avoid probate for homes and other land, because your sister could change her mind about leaving it to you.
She doesnít need a Durable Power of Attorney to avoid probate, but thatís not the purpose of a DPOA. If she gives you a DPOA, you will be able to manage her financial affairs should she become incapacitated. For the same reason, she should give you an Advance Health Care Directive to allow you to make medical decisions upon her incapacity, and to arrange for the disposition of her remains upon her death.
One of the goals of estate planning is to make things easier to manage when you go.
Len & Rosie
Len Tillem and Rosie McNichol are elder law attorneys. Contact them at 846 Broadway, Sonoma, CA 95476, by phone at (707) 996-4505, or on the Internet at www.lentillem.com. Len also answers legal questions each weekday, Noon-1 p.m. and Sundays, 4-7 p.m. on KGO Radio 810 AM.